Earning the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification is attractive to many accounting professionals due to the many benefits of the CMA. If you’re interested in the CMA for all the ways it can enhance your career, you need to learn how to become a CMA to start the process. So, use this 13-step guide to learn about CMA eligibility and begin your CMA journey.
If you want to earn the CMA, you can’t skip any of these steps. Instead, you must fully commit to each of them and give them your all to reach CMA success as soon as possible.
The first 5 steps involve important decisions you must make before beginning the CMA application process. Then, steps 6-13 reveal exactly what you must do to meet all of the CMA certification requirements and prove your CMA qualification.
The first few steps in the CMA journey are the ones you must take to confirm that you’re ready to go down this road. Securing the CMA certification is not impossible, but it is a bit demanding, so you must know what you’re getting into and why before you proceed. (You might want to read this post about Is the CMA Worth It, too.)
Start with a basic introduction to the CMA. The Certified Management Accountant certification designates management accounting professionals who have met a series of requirements. As the organization that awards the certification, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) establishes these requirements to objectively measure an accountant’s knowledge and competence in management accounting.
Other than the CMA title, what advantages can you enjoy for satisfying the IMA’s CMA requirements and receiving the certification?
The benefits of the CMA certification include the following:
Furthermore, the CMA certification is the gold standard in management accounting and probably the world’s global management accounting certification. What’s more, the skills you gain from earning the CMA are super practical, and the IMA has not made securing the certification an insurmountable challenge. So, if a higher income, better job, greater respect, and more all sound good to you, then you should move on to the next step in the CMA process.
I know you just learned that the CMA is a very rewarding certification, but it is not the only accounting certification available. In fact, you have a lot of options as to which accounting certification you can pursue. These options include the following:
You also have a few other management accounting certifications to choose from, depending on the country you live in.
You should know which accounting certifications you can earn so that you are certain the CMA is the one you want to go for now. Depending on your career goals, you may want to get the CMA certification and nothing else, or you may combine a few different accounting certifications over time to specialize in a particular field. Knowing your CMA career possibilities and CMA salary potential should help you conclude if this certification is the best choice for you given your background and aspirations.
The CMA certification is absolutely worth it, but getting it requires a substantial investment of time and effort.
As you recall, you must meet the CMA requirements to obtain the certification. The most imposing of these requirements are the exam, education, and experience requirements.
The basics of these requirements include:
Assuming you already planned to earn or did earn a bachelor’s degree of some sort, then meeting the CMA education requirement shouldn’t be an issue. So, the real challenges of the CMA certification will be passing the exam and getting the experience. But honestly, the IMA makes meeting the CMA experience requirement fairly easy, so many candidates believe that passing the CMA exam is the main obstacle.
How hard is the CMA exam? The CMA exam consists of 2 parts. CMA exam Part 1 and Part 2 both present 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 essay questions for you to answer in 4 hours. To get a good indication of CMA exam difficulty, we just need to look at the CMA exam pass rates. Though the pass rates have risen recently, the average CMA pass rate is still just 50%. Therefore, the CMA exam isn’t something you can take lightly. But at the same time, if you’re willing to invest in a CMA review course and study consistently, the CMA exam is something you can pass.
If you’re interested in earning the CMA to make more money, then the amount of money you spend on the CMA matters.
When you add up all the CMA fees, you can see that securing the certification will cost you around $2,200+.
So, the simple question is: Can you afford the CMA?
Well, when you consider once again that the CMA helps you increase your income by as much as 47%, then you can see that the certification pays for itself and then pays dividends on top of that.
Also, when you check out all the CMA review discounts you can use to save on your CMA exam prep, then you can see just how affordable the CMA certification can be.
So, if you’re officially ready to begin the CMA process, then you must address the CMA requirements in the best order, starting with the education requirement.
You’re most likely all set if you already have a bachelor’s degree. You just need to verify that you got your degree from an accredited college or university. Email a copy of your transcript (in English in PDF format along with your IMA membership number) to the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA), and check to make sure your transcript is on file in your IMA online account a week or so after you make the request.
What if your school isn’t on the accredited list? This situation isn’t usually a big deal. You just need to have a foreign credential evaluation agency assess your transcript and send their report to the ICMA.
Still in school? Don’t worry: if you’re currently enrolled in such an institution and have not yet graduated, you can still qualify to take the CMA exam and make that your first step toward the CMA. To prove to the IMA that you’re a student, you just need to be registered for at least 6 credits per semester during the academic year. Then, you need to send confirmation of your degree to the ICMA within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.
Your other option for fulfilling the education requirement is already holding a professional certification. The IMA reveals which certifications fulfill the CMA education requirement, so check the list and have your organization send a letter confirming your status to the ICMA.
Once you confirm your interest and eligibility for the exam, you can join the IMA. Your options for IMA membership and the costs of these membership types include:
You must take the following steps to become an IMA member:
In the online application form, you will be asked to fill out your personal and professional information, such as other professional credentials, education, job title, and responsibilities, and pay the annual fee by credit card. The whole process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.
You need to enter the CMA program in order to take the CMA exam, and becoming a member of the IMA does NOT automatically put you in the CMA program. You can become a member of the IMA and join the CMA program at the same time if you want, but this step is not mandatory.
Therefore, you should join the CMA program only when you are ready to take the exam. You should wait until this point because once you enroll in the program and pay the CMA entrance fee, you must:
To join the CMA program, follow these steps:
After enrolling in the CMA program, you may register for the exam. The CMA exam consists of 2 parts:
You can take the exam parts in any order, though I suggest you start with the part you feel most comfortable with. You can also take the exam parts on the same day or at different times, depending on how much time you have to study.
The CMA exam parts are available to take during the following annual testing windows:
You may choose to register online, by phone with credit card information, or by mailing/faxing the registration form.
To register for the CMA exam, you must follow these steps:
Upon successful registration, you can schedule the date and time of the exam part(s) you want. In the past, candidates could only take the CMA exam at Prometric test centers located in the U.S. and around the globe. However, the ICMA recently announced new remote testing options for the CMA exam. So now, candidates can take the exam at Prometric centers, which are open every weekday during the testing windows, or online on their own computer.
The ICMA has allowed candidates to register for remote CMA testing since the January/February 2022 testing window. That is, test-takers can now either sit for CMA exams in-person at a Prometric Center or take them remotely via the ProProctorTM service from Prometric. Furthermore, the fees are the same for both remote and in-person exam options. However, remote proctoring is only available for the English version of the exam.
Prometric has issued several technology and space limitations for the ProProctorTM options, though. In fact, you can even switch to remote proctoring if you’ve already registered to take an exam at a Prometric site.
Remote proctoring is available globally, for the most part, although some limitations do exist. For example, candidates in the following areas cannot participate in remote testing, largely due to the availability of good internet networks: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and part of Ukraine (Crimea).
Likewise, candidates can only take the remote proctored CMA exam on a computer, not a smartphone or tablet. And if you’re considering remote proctoring, definitely do some homework first. For example, go to the ProProctorTM website and check out the internet and computer system requirements.
You can typically cancel an appointment within 72 hours, and your refund (minus a $25 administrative fee) will be available within 30 days of registration. However, Prometric charges a $50 fee to candidates who reschedule/cancel appointments within 3 to 30 days of the original test date.
The CMA exam parts tests candidates on their knowledge of the following areas of management accounting and financial management:
Furthermore, each CMA exam part contains 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 essay scenarios for you to answer. So, the CMA exam is definitely an exam you’ll want to study for.
Thankfully, as soon as you enter the CMA program, you’ll receive 6 months of free access to the IMA’s Exam Support Package. You’ll find the package on the IMA Learning Center website as soon as you pay the entrance fee. This package includes a glossary of terms and downloadable and printable multiple-choice and essay practice questions.
But, while the Exam Support Package is helpful, it isn’t sufficient to prepare you for the CMA exam on its own. Instead, to give yourself the best chance of exam success, you need the additional learning tools you’ll find in a CMA review course.
A CMA review course contains self-study resources that prepare you for the CMA exam by focusing on the exam content. Usually, you can access all the resources in your course online. These resources can include:
You can purchase a complete CMA review course that covers the content of both exam parts, or you can purchase just a CMA review course for just one exam part.
A CMA review course is beneficial because it covers and presents the exam content in a convenient and efficient way, ensures you reach the levels of knowledge and skill that you need in order to pass and supplies a support system for additional information, advice, and encouragement. To find the best CMA exam prep for you, check out my comparison of the pros and cons of the most popular CMA review course options available. Then, use my CMA review discounts to save big on your preferred course.
And keep in mind, too, that some candidates also add supplemental study materials in addition to their full review course. Why? Well, each provider uses different instructors who might explain concepts in different ways that speak to you. For instance, you might pick a full review course from a company like Becker or Gleim, which have good practice questions and mock exams.
The IMA doesn’t want you to forget what you just learned to pass the CMA exam. Therefore, they start imposing their continuing professional education (CPE) requirement on CMA candidates as soon as candidates finish the CMA exam. So, once you’ve completed the additional requirements and applied for the CMA certificate, your CPE and IMA membership must be current at the time. Otherwise, the IMA won’t award you CMA status.
If you complete the CMA exam in the middle of the year, then you don’t need to meet the CPE requirement until the following year. But you may carry up to 10 CPE hours to the next reporting year, so you can start working on next year’s CPE as soon as possible.
The IMA’s CPE requirement holds CMAs to take 30 hours of CPE every year. And 2 of these 30 hours must cover the area of ethics. Moreover, the subjects of your CPE must be relevant to a management accountant’s or financial manager’s career development and related to employer needs.
You can earn your CPE from the following sources:
You’ll also find that qualifying CPE programs come in the following forms:
As a CMA candidate, you must have 2 continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management.
As with the education requirement, you can complete the experience requirement before or within 7 years of passing the CMA exam.
Furthermore, you can use your full-time teaching experience to fulfill the experience requirement as long as at least 60% of your course load involves teaching accounting or finance above the principles level for a minimum of 2 years.
What’s more, while the IMA does expect full-time employment, they accept continuous part-time positions of 20 hours per week that satisfy their standards for qualified experience. The IMA awards 1 year of experience for every 2 years of part-time employment. Therefore, you’d need to work part-time for 4 years to meet the 2-year experience requirement.
But, whether full-time or part-time, your experience must involve regularly using the principles of management accounting and financial management to make judgments. The IMA believes accountants employ these principles most often in tasks such as:
So long as your experience meets these specifications, you can expect the IMA to give you credit for this requirement.
You can officially apply for the CMA certificate once you’ve passed both parts of the CMA exam and fulfilled the experience requirement.
Once you’ve received the certification, you must continuously comply with the IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action. Furthermore, you must also pay the annual IMA membership fee in order to maintain your certification.
This video summarizes how to become a CMA.
I know the CMA process sounds a bit complicated. But, once you take the first step toward becoming a CMA, it’s completely doable. And I am more than happy to help you along the way!
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.